For sixty-five years, the Krewe of Louisianians, comprised of the seven congressional districts of the State of Louisiana, has hosted a private Mardi Gras for 5,000 people in Washington, D.C. The three-day celebration includes the best examples of Louisiana’s food and music, while honoring its young women as princesses and festival queens. The Mardi Gras King and Queen reign over this gathering, including feasts, processions, dancing and parades.
George Rodrigue and I love this event, because it is in D.C., in one place, that we see friends from Shreveport, Lake Charles, and Houma, as folks from around the state gather at a Carnival Retreat. It’s a chance for us to thank George’s art patrons and especially supporters of our foundation, as we encourage the arts in education in Louisiana, including an annual scholarship art contest, art supplies for schools, and, most exciting, the A+ arts-integrated school system.
However, the main reason we attend is for the fun of this over-the-top event, as we reminisce about George’s reign as King in 1994 and, this year especially, about the reign of King Marion.
-click photos throughout to enlarge-
When Marion Edwards received word that he would be King of the 1985 Washington Mardi Gras Ball, he called George Rodrigue with hopes of a portrait. He and his brothers, he explained, were “poor little Cajun boys” from Marksville, Louisiana, and now he would be King! The occasion was worth commemorating.
To create the painting, George posed Marion, dressed in his costume, in the yard of his Lafayette house, with Chef John Folse and renowned raconteur P.J. Latour donning full Lieutenant’s attire. In typical Rodrigue style, he then arranged the figures on his canvas within an imaginary Louisiana landscape, including the United States Capitol, in a surreal setting combining two parts of America. The painting also combines two slices of time, the current King Marion and Marion the little boy, who sits in his rocker dreaming of one day being King.
In addition to the portrait, Marion requested 10,000 signed prints as gifts for his friends throughout the state.
“When he asked me the price,” recalls George, “I thought about the famous Paris trip, which Marion conceived of and organized to recoup his brother Edwin’s gubernatorial campaign debt. Each of the 600 Edwards supporters, including me, paid $25,000 to attend.
“Well Marion, I guess it will cost you $25,000, I told him.
“‘Well Papa George, it’ll cost me that much, huh?’
“The problem with you, Marion, I exclaimed, is that you’ve got too many friends!
“In the end, he agreed to the price, so I guess we broke even on that deal.”
(pictured, Marion and “Papa George” (his endearing reference for his friend) celebrated many Washington and Lafayette Mardi Gras’s together. George used this photo to create the invitation for his 1985 Lafayette party. Also pictured, Chef John Folse and renowned raconteur P.J. Latour)
It was recently, however, that Marion and his wife Penny became an integral, almost daily part of our lives.
(pictured, with Marion and Penny Edwards at the LSU Museum of Art, 2011; story here-)
When George was at his lowest last summer, sick from treatments as he fought lung cancer in Houston, it was Marion he turned to for strength; Marion, who lived another thirty-five years following his diagnosis with liver cancer; Marion, who held true to his faith in God and medicine and, above all, the love of family and friends; and Marion, who dubbed himself years ago the “Walking Swamp Miracle” and lovingly dubbed George his son, his “Walking Swamp Miracle, Jr.”
(pictured, George, Penny and Marion study Marion’s sermon books, saved from his years as a preacher for the Church of the Nazarene in the 1940s)
Following Marion’s funeral, George and I sat beneath his portrait as King Marion in Jolie’s Louisiana Bistro, where we reminisced about our friend as I made notes for this post.
“Marion was the kind of guy,” said George, “who, when he took on a project, always finished it. And if you needed help, he’d help you, showing genuine concern for your situation.
“He was a true friend to me for thirty years.”
(pictured, upon receiving word that George’s cancer treatments were working, Marion sent him this photo, a treasured “thumb’s up.”)
I don’t think it hit either of us that Marion was gone until we sat surrounded by the music he chose for his send-off. He left in the style befitting a King, in a horse-drawn carriage through the streets of Crowley, Louisiana. Although I’ve always hoped but never quite accepted that we all meet again in Nirvana, I imagined during this service, Marion, dancing with joy in Heaven and, without being able to help it, I believed.
Au revoir from me and Papa George.
-read Marion Edwards’ (1928-2013) obituary-
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